Florida Road Trip: Beaches, Wildlife, and Hidden Gems

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Looking to road trip to Florida? The word summer conjures up so many different memories and feelings for so many people, especially children. It means the kids are on summer break. It is a season many long for after a cold winter.

For others, it means they get to attempt to manage to keep their children occupied and still go to work. Back when I was raising kids, I was constantly thinking “How do I keep these kids busy?”

Well, raising children on the southeast coast of Florida was a no-brainer. We went to the beach or on a road trip as often as possible. We would mix it up from time to time but usually, I loaded up the van with my three and any number of their friends we picked up along the way.

During this time, we had a conversion van and enough space so the kids didn’t have to be close to each other. There was no technology except the TV with a VCR. We rarely heard the kids say “I’m bored”! Why? Because we didn’t plan every step of our adventures. We rolled with the “I have to go to the bathroom” and the “I’m hungry” three separate times in 30 minutes. 

So here is a short list of Florida road trips:

North Carolina-Blue Ridge Parkway- Maggie Valley to Cade’s Cove to Gatlinburg: We absolutely loved taking road trips and this one ended up being an annual trip. We didn’t do tons of hiking or attractions, but what we did do was make sure we explored. We had a family of five and our thing became hotel continental breakfast carbs in the morning and we would drive through the mountains over to the Golden Corral in Gatlinburg for a late lunch or early dinner. Everyone looked forward to it and we had a great time beating the mountain fog back to Maggie Valley.

The Beach: Any beach is enough! Being a transplant from Wisconsin and road-tripping with my dad every spring break to Florida, I knew the Keys and the east coast so well that by the time we moved to Florida, I already knew my way around. For me, the Atlantic Coast beaches hands down kick the bikini off of the Gulf Coast’s beaches.

The Gulf waters are much warmer and you may have to hike through tons of hot sand to get close to the water. Many people enjoy looking for shells and there is no shortage on some beaches. On the Atlantic side, this hobby isn’t always consistent, but one area, Sanibel Island/Captiva, doesn’t disappoint. Frequently, you can’t walk out into the water for hundreds of yards in knee-deep warm water and reach down and put your hands on sand dollars and star fish. Please, if you go, do not plan on taking any sea creatures home or letting the kiddos play with them for any extended time as they are living creatures.   

Water parks: Whoever invented the water slide is my hero. Florida has no shortage of water parks and we were fortunate to be midway between one in West Palm Beach and one in Orlando.     

Small town USA – Here is a short list of the small cities in Florida that we discovered and road tripped to frequently:

  • Saint Augustine
  • Sanibel/Captiva Island
  • Islamorada
  • Tavares

The best part of Florida road trips is if you do them right, you will never hear your kids say “are we there yet?” It was the best family time ever and now that the kids are grown, they frequently bring up a special memory from a trip. My best advice? Do your road trips with the understanding that there will be limited device time and it will be much more memorable in the long run. There are so many “old-school” road trip games.

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